There are some reviewers with the habit of calling films unnecessary. This is unprofessional. Frequently, the adjective is applied to sequels, remakes, adaptations and other stories retold, including Marc Webb’s “The Amazing Spider-Man,” a reboot released only five years following “Spider-Man 3,” the lacklustre culmination of Sam Raimi’s popular trilogy. Although the Spider-Man story has been retold a number of times since the early 60s, Webb’s treatment is hardly unnecessary; while it does not have heaps more to say, it refreshes and individuates a familiar and relatively basic plot.
Logic dictates that prominent characters in movies named after them should be well-cast and well-acted in particular. This is true of Andrew Garfield (“The Social Network”), who makes a more convincing Spider-Man, a tenderer Peter Parker and a more believable high school student than Tobey Maguire, despite approaching 30. Garfield aids the movie’s three screenwriters (Vanderbilt, Sargent, Kloves) in providing us with a deeper and more complete Spider-Man character, partly by means of a long and satisfying backstory.
From a narrative standpoint, the first act of the film, consisting of Spider-Man’s backstory, is stronger than the last. The script deals effectively with the disappearance of Peter Parker’s parents, his subsequent life with his aunt and uncle (Sally Field and Martin Sheen) and his high school woes, including those with his love interest Gwen (Emma Stone). Parker eventually discovers a link between his parents and Dr. Connors (Rhys Ifans) of the ambitious Oscorp; heading there results in the fateful spider bite.
The second act, where Parker begins to discover his powers, is well-handled too. Here we learn more about Gwen and her father Captain Stacy (Denis Leary) of the New York police. Parker’s relationship with Stacy is complicated from the get-go; as Peter he fails to make a good impression at dinner, and as Spidey he is treated as a criminal. In an important plotline, Parker heads out to seek revenge for his uncle’s death. Themes of vigilantism indispensable to the superhero genre are explored in this part in the standard way, more thoughtfully than in Raimi’s series but less thoroughly than in Nolan’s Batman films, for comparison’s sake.
The final act of the movie is less consistent than the other two but is not mindless. Most problems with it stem from the customary villain, The Lizard, who lacks thunder and deliberation. CGI and Ifan’s performance are not to blame; instead, the screenplay rushes Dr. Connor’s transition, creating a somewhat dispensable baddy who evokes less pathos and fear than, say, Doc Ock from “Spider-Man 2”.
Despite disappointing narratively, the second half of “Spider-Man” does boast a pleasant cameo by Stan Lee and some good action, directed with a coherence increasingly rare for the genre. Importantly, the action does not overwhelm the story, with a few short but effective sequences, notably a daring bridge rescue. Events are told with a smart use of CGI and underlined by a simple score by James Horner.
The movie finishes with a satisfying, even realistic outcome for Gwen and Peter’s relationship. This attention to the ‘man’ in Spider-Man is what primarily justifies the reboot, and there is more than enough ‘spider’ left to be sure.